UT volleyball tops Missouri in five sets

Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee  outside hitter Tiffany Baker serves against Missouri on Friday in Knoxville.

Photo by Donald Page/Tennessee Athletic, University of Tennessee Athletics

Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics Tennessee outside hitter Tiffany Baker serves against Missouri on Friday in Knoxville.

Following an unexpected and disconcerting loss to Arkansas two weeks ago, Tennessee women's volleyball setter Mary Pollmiller and coach Rob Patrick sat in an empty Thompson-Boling Arena.

They talked for over an hour.

Before the conversation, Pollmiller told the News Sentinel, "We're not ourselves right now."

Since then, the Lady Vols, who began the year ranked 14th nationally, split a pair of matches. A win over South Carolina was followed by an embarrassing nationally televised 3-0 loss at Kentucky on ESPNU.

Following eight days off the floor, UT continued to search for itself Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

An emotional 3-2 win over visiting Missouri was the result, but the hunt continues.

"There's flashes of it and I don't know if that's worse or better because if there are flashes, we should be all the way there," Pollmiller said this time around.

Now residing outside the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll for the first time since September of 2011, the Lady Vols (10-5, 3-3 SEC) are still trying to recapture the mojo of last year's 18-1 SEC championship campaign.

Patrick saw glimpses Friday.

"I was really happy with how we grinded through that match," Patrick said. "Even though we lost a couple of close sets, we grinded through."

After UT captured the first and third sets and Missouri (12-5, 4-3) snagged the second and fourth, the Lady Vols pulled out the fifth set 15-11. Tennessee senior Kayla Jeter delivered the decisive final spike with 1,102 fans on-hand.

"This was really important for us to try to get back on track," said junior Ellen Mullins, who finished with a career-high 34 digs. "We figured it out tonight."

Tennessee senior Leslie Cikra softly tipped the ball over outstretched Missouri defenders to cap a dramatic 27-25 UT win in the back-and-forth third set.

Looking to close out the Tigers in the fourth set, the Lady Vols instead fell 25-22 after 12 ties and six lead changes.

Having battled injuries and an ever-changing rotation, the fifth-set win was a sigh of relief for UT.

Patrick used his eighth different starting lineup of the season.

"Tonight is a good win for us, but it still doesn't feel right," said Pollmiller, sporting a pink jersey for UT's annual breast cancer awareness "Dig for the Cure" game. "It's hard to get in a rhythm with different people."

The Lady Vols will face Georgia on Sunday back at Thompson-Boling Arena. UT has won 23 of the last 29 meeting between the two.

"We need to make a surge in the SEC — that's what we've talked about," said Patrick, who described the Lady Vols as being in "a situation where we're playing against good teams and we're a little unorganized on our side."

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

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